» Download Audio
The author is not a preacher, and yet he does deliver a kind of sermon here. Who is his audience? Interestingly, his audience is your teachers of Advanced English as a foreign language. The author seeks to help them in their difficult task of teaching advanced students, their task of leading their students to a higher lever of ability and fluency.
Does it encourage you to know that you are not the only one who is struggling at this level of language acquisition?
A Kind of Sermon
It is probably easier for teachers than for students to appreciate the reasons why learning English seems to become increasingly difficult once the basic structures and patterns of the language have been understood. Students are naturally surprised and disappointed to discover that a process which ought to become simpler does not appear to do so.
It may not seem much consolation to point out that the teacher, too, becomes frustrated when his efforts appear to produce less obvious results. He finds that students who were easy to teach, because they succeeded in putting everything they had been taught into practice, hesitate when confronted with the vast untouched area of English vocabulary and usage which falls outside the scope of basic textbooks. He sees them struggling because the language they thought they knew now appears to consist of a bewildering variety of idioms, clichéd and accepted phrases with different meanings in different contexts. It is hard to convince them that they are still making progress towards fluency and that their English is certain to improve, given time and dedication.
In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that some give up in disgust, while others still wait hopefully for the teacher to give them the same confident guidance he was able to offer them at first. The teacher, for his part, frequently reduced to trying to explain the inexplicable, may take refuge in quoting proverbs to his colleagues such as: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't what you say. It's the way that you say it." His students might feel inclined to counter these with: "The more I learn, the less I know."
Of course this is not true. What both students and teachers are experiencing is the recognition that the more complex structures one encounters in a language are not as vital to making oneself understood and so have a less immediate field of application. For the same reason, from the teacher's point o view, selecting what should be taught becomes a more difficult task. It is much easier to get food of any kind than to choose the dish you would most like to eat on a given day from a vast menu.
Defining the problem is easier than providing the solution. One can suggest that students should spend two or three years in an English-speaking country, which amounts to washing one's hands of them. Few students have the time or the money to do that. It is often said that wide reading is the time or the money to do that. It is often said that wide reading is the best alternative course of action but even here it is necessary to make some kind of selection. It is no use telling students to go to the library and pick up the first book they come across. My own advice to them would be: "read what you can understand without having to look up words in a dictionary (but not what you can understand at a glance); read what interests you; read what you have time for (magazines and newspapers rather than novels unless you can read the whole novel in a week or so); read the English written today, not 200 years ago; read as much as you can and try to remember the way it was written rather than individual words that puzzled you." And instead of "read", I could just as well say "listen to."
My advice to teachers would be similar in a way. I would say "It's no good thinking that anything will do, or that all language is useful. It's no good relying on students to express themselves without the right tools for expression. It's still your duty to choose the best path to follow near the top of the mountain just as it was to propose a practicable short-cut away from the beaten track in the foothills. And if the path you choose is too overgrown to make further progress, the whole party will have to go back and you will have to choose another route. You are still the paid guide and expert and there is a way to the top somewhere."
n. a talk given in church by a priest; a long and solemn piece of advice 布道；说教
n. (a person or thing that gives) comfort during a time of sadness and disappointment 安慰
a. not touched; not dealt with
n. (a) generally accepted way of using a language 习惯用法
n. the area within the limits of a question, subject, action, etc.; ranged
n. a phrase which means something different from the meanings of the separate words from which it is formed 习语；成语
n. an expression or idea used so often that it has lost much of its expressive force 陈词滥调，陈腐思想
n. what comes before and after (a word, phrase, statement, etc.), helping to fix the meaning （文章的）上下文
n. a smooth, easy flow 流利；流畅
n. self-sacrificing devotion 献身；忠诚；专心
n. strong feeling of dislike or distaste 厌恶
ad. in a hopeful manner; if our hopes succeed 怀着希望；但愿
n. the act or process of guiding; advice on vocational or educational problems given to students
a. incapable of being explained 无法说明的；费解的
n. shelter or protection from danger or distress 避难；庇护
vt. repeat in speaking or writing (the words of another person) 引用，引述
n. a brief popular saying 谚语
ad. in a way or manner that shows respect
ad. according to the rules of grammar
(spoken) a short form of "am not", "is not" or "are not"
n. the act of recognizing 认识；承认
a. with nothing between; coming at once
a. specified, fixed 特定的，一定的
vt. explain the meaning of; state, show or describe clearly 给...下定义;界定
n. the act of selecting
n. a long story in prose about either imaginary or historical people
vi. be dependent, count
a. capable of being done, put into practice or accomplished; feasible
n. a route more direct than that usu. taken; a quicker way of doing sth. 捷径
a. much walked on or traveled (路)踏平的；人们常走的
a. covered with plants growing uncontrolled
PHRASES & EXPRESSIONS
put into practice
apply; carry out
bring face to face with; force to deal with or accept the truth of
stop attempting sth.; admit defeat
for one's part
as far as one is concerned
bring or force (sb.) to (esp. a weaker or less favorable state)
take refuge in
find shelter of protection in
wash one's hands of
have no more to do with; refuse to be responsible for
meet, find, or discover by chance
find (information) in a book
at a glance
with (information) in a book
no good / not much good
useless or bad
not any good
trust; have confidence in; depend on